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Druid Heights program helps first-time buyers get mortgages

THE BALTIMORE EVENING SUN

"One-on-one" is a weekly feature offering excerpts of interviews conducted by The Evening Sun with newsworthy business and civic leaders. Jacquelyn D. Cornish is executive director of the 18-year-old Druid Heights Community Development Corporation Inc., which encourages homeownership in Druid Heights among low-income residents.

Q. Describe the community of Druid Heights socially and economically.

A. Druid Heights is bounded by Tiffany Alley, North Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue and Laurens Street. We're a fairly large and densely populated community. Fifty years ago this was a community primarily of upper- to middle-class Jewish families. Then there was a transition period. We now have a predominance of elderly and black citizens up here. I'd say from our latest stats, if I can remember, we are 90 percent black, and 5 percent is Hispanic and Korean. The predominance of our homeowners up here are 30- to 50- years-old.

Q. What are the advantages, and also the disadvantages, of living in Druid Heights?

A. This area offers spacious homes, something that you can't buy reasonably anywhere else. We have a lot of old houses which have 15- to 18-foot ceilings. A typical home has three stories, four bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths and generally large rooms. Such a house will cost $50,000 to $60,000. And if you finish fixing it up yourself, you may run around $70,000. Some of them you get cheaper. I've seen them go for $15,000 to $16,000. I've seen them go at tax sales for $3 to $400.

Q. What type of people are you trying to get to buy the houses in the area? What is the income bracket of the people that are buying these houses?

A. Most of the people are first-time homebuyers with low incomes, and these are the people our organization advises. About 50 percent interested in buying houses in Druid Heights are residents and others from outside the community. We are finding people from the suburbs who are now interested in moving back into the community. People who escaped to the suburbs are finding problems commuting. So we have the commuters who are coming back into the city. All your cultural hubbub is right here in the city, so people are coming back. And we do find a mixture. We have young newly marrieds. We have a lot of yuppies, buppies [black urban professionals] who are coming back into the community. Through our workshops they are finding out that owning your own home is not an impossible dream.

Q. Discuss the homeownership workshops that your organization offers to first-time homebuyers with low incomes.

A. I should say first off that what we're finding is that if you are capable of paying $250 to $300 in rent per month in addition to your utilities, you are probably capable of buying. As a matter of fact, if you lived in a house for 30 years at increasing rents, you've probably paid enough to buy that house. Our organization is in our second year of offering low-income residents an entire program on pre-homeownership -- the A to Z in homeownership. It covers getting your credit together, if you have bad credit, to being able to go into a potential home that you may be considering to buy and inspecting the home for all kinds of defects yourself, as well as comprehensive advice on the loan packages. They are geared specifically to first-time homebuyers with low to moderate incomes because the loan programs that we are involved are FHA 221, FHA 221D, CDA, and Home Ownership Made Easy (HOME) Program.

Q. Are these the mortgages which are popular with your clients?

A. The majority of people who live up in this area are low- to moderate-income people. They're making $18,000 to $20,000 and below, and these are the people that these mortgages are geared to. The HOME program is a wonderful program for incomes up to $23,000. Then you have the FHA 221D program, which is a mortgage insurance program to finance low-cost homes to low-and moderate-income families. . . . . This is very popular in Druid Heights. The borrower pays approximately 3 to 5 percent of acquisition costs of property. . . . The FHA 221D2 program is popular because it requires less cash for closing costs, and the appraisers tend to ask for more than is usually in the original contract, such as roofing certification. .

Q. Are there any problems that one can run into with loans like these?

A. Let's say complications. For instance, with the FHA 221D2 there is a requirement that there be two or more people in the family. So a person who fits all the other criteria but lives alone would be knocked out of the program. However, a family of one could use a CDA loan, which offers the lowest in interest rates at 7 1/4 percent.

Q. Why do you encourage homeownership in your neighborhood?

A. We do not want an entire community of homeowners. That's not the purpose. The purpose is to stabilize the community where we have less transiency in communities. Communities that have less transiency will have less crime and less trash problems. Homeowners are committed to their communities because this is where they have to raise their children. This is where they're going to be for the next 20, 30 years of their lives. You also have more taxpayer representation, so your district gets better services.

L Q. Talk about the problems which first-time homebuyers have.

A. Most of the time we're finding they have poor credit histories. That's one of the reasons that we started doing these homeownership workshops. What we do is credit counseling. Once they come in, we get them a credit report for a $5 fee. When the credit report comes back, we make an appointment with them. They also learn how to read credit reports. Then we try to work out a payback plan. Most of the time it takes an average of 1 to 2 years to pay back their debt.

Q. Do most people stick with their payback plan?

A. Yes, they do. Many creditors are willing to work with people.

Q. Are any banks working with you to encourage homeownership in your community?

A. I can't emphasize enough how helpful Maryland National Bank has been. They give average figures of what is required for

different programs for your settlements and down payments.

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